Archive for the 'Environment' Category

04
Jun
09

‘Connecting the Frontal Cortext to the Solar Plexus’: The Ashden Directory’s Contribution to EMOS

The folks over at The Ashden Directory participated in this year’s Earth Matters on Stage at the University of Oregon from afar — an act borne of the desire to contribute to the conference/symposium without flying across the globe to do so.

Here is a DVD they produced in order to introduce their session. It’s a stand-alone piece of work, with fantastic insight. I think my favorite moment is when Mojisola Adebayo says that many theater artists believe that theater is “inherently good for you, therefore theater makers inherently do good.” She goes on: “I don’t think any of us think our work could be harmful in anyway.” When will we, as theater artists, admit that our work can be, and often is, harmful?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

24
May
09

Theater Matters – Notes from EMOS 2009 Part II

It’s 11am where I’m from (9am here on the west coast), and I just woke up. The schedule so far this weekend for EMOS coupled with my determination to get everywhere on a bike while I’m here has added up to the biggest physical challenge I’ve undertaken since my chemo and surgery. At about six o’clock this morning I woke up with a painful cramp in my right calf. I was determined to sleep as long as my body needed. So I did.

I wanted to write more yesterday about EMOS, but my day was so full with the goings-on here, I never got a chance. I arrived at the University of Oregon yesterday morning and began a solid, nearly twelve hour marathon of stuff.

Outside the Miller Theatre Complex at the University of Oregon on my first day at EMOS 2009

Outside the Miller Theatre Complex at the University of Oregon on my first day at EMOS 2009

It began by sitting in a classroom, listening to theater scholars describe their work. “Theater scholars,” I thought when I heard the term spoken from behind the lectern for the first time yesterday. “Not theater artists?”

Within the several scholarly talks I listened to yesterday there were a few that stood out, and rose above the scholarly drone.

Downing Cless of Tufts University spoke interestingly of how he has directed classic works to draw out their Ecological themes. What I found most interesting about Cless was his final thought: that even if we are able to draw out the environmental themes in this (very old) work, we are still “dependent on the mechanics of the stage.” As an example he mentioned that Aristophanes relied on a crane for his work The Birds (a work Cless has directed) when first produced. With this thought he ended his talk, and it seemed to be either an open ended challenge for folks like me or a rebuke of the idea that it is equally important to produce in an eco-responsible manner as it is to draw attention to our relationship with nature on the stage.

Heather Barfield Cole (who told me this morning that she’s dropping the Cole from her name soon) of UT Austin described a handful of examples of successful activist theater, including the street theater of Bread & Puppet and even the work of ACT UP — her presentation was refreshingly free of the seemingly typical readerly drone of such things. She spoke of the criteria of activist theater, and I feverishly tried to jot down her list, but fear I missed too much of it to reproduce here; however, in quotes I did write this: “not as luxury, but out of need.” Enough said?

The highlight of my day, however, was unexpected: Anne Justine D’Zmura gave a presentation to an entirely too small audience on her experience of producing a work called Green Piece at Cal State Long Beach, where she is a professor. Her work was one of the best examples I’ve yet seen/heard of in this genre of so-called EcoDrama that I have encountered. Why? It was a completely holistic approach to the problem that we (I think) hope to address when producing work on the environment, sustainability, et cetera. She not only created an original work that thematically addressed the issue of nature, ecological destruction, and social injustice (to name a few), but also took the idea of the thing to heart and made sure to use the work to educate her students (and herself) on the core issues, as well as — and here is where you know I get excited — making a concerted effort to create a piece that tread as lightly as possible on the environment by considering its use of resources carefully. Thank you, Anne. (here is a link to Anne’s study guide for Green Piece.) As a side note: not even the work presented here at EMOS could attain the level of “solving for pattern” that D’Zmura so creatively reached in her work on Green Piece.

Next came Rachel Rosenthal. The now 83-year old performance artist and activist was in good form, and showed excerpts from her works Gaia, Mon Amour (1983), Rachel’s Brain (1986), and L.O.W. in Gaia (1986) — all overpowering examples of her presence on the stage. She struck me as one of the most quotable speakers I’ve ever listened to. Some examples:

“Artaud saved my life.”

“I do love some people, but I love all animals.”

“I hate being old, because I want to see what happens.”

The evening ended with a staging of C. Denby Swanson’s Atomic Farmgirl, a retelling of Teri Hein’s memoir of the same name which details her experience growing up on a farm in Washington state that was repeatedly contaminated with radiation leaking from the nearby Hanford Nuclear site. It was a play in three acts, with two (did I say two?) intermissions. And I have to say this too: as someone who has dealt with cancer directly over the past two years, I was a bit unnerved that the 1st and 2nd place winners of the EMOS play festival both dealt with cancer in a very real way.

Oh, and I almost forgot: I met Theresa May yesterday too, and she was incredibly kind. For all of the nit picking I am capable of, I cannot forget (and won’t let you) that she has undertaken this festival and is obviously a friggin’ force of nature herself. She is to be congratulated for her fortitude and drive — she is asking us to think about these things as theater artists (and scholars), and that in itself is crucial to our future.

Of course, folks never fail to disappoint:

Garrett points at the strange use of the garbage can outside UO's Miller Theatre Complex

Garrett points at the strange use of the garbage can outside UO's Miller Theatre Complex

It may be difficult to tell in the photo above, but it was surprising to see how so many people at a festival concerned with the environment and our behavior towards it could be so clueless about what to NOT throw in the trash. Behind Ian are a string of recycling options, as well as a yellow bin for compostables — all items used for eating at the festival are designed to be compostable except (I’m not clear on why this is) the forks. But, nearly everyone threw their stuff right in the trash — even the paper plates and seemingly clean napkins. As we walked away from this, Ian and I had a discussion about the need to eliminate sorting at the consumer end of recycling. It confuses, is inefficient, and generally redundant, as most municipalities sort the recycling anyway.

23
May
09

Theater Matters – notes from Earth Matters on Stage 2009 part I

Okay, so I can’t keep my nose out of it…

I’m here in beautiful Eugene, Oregon attending the 2009 Earth Matters on Stage: A Symposium on Theatre & Ecology at the University of Oregon. Last night was the official beginning of the event with keynote speaker Una Chaudhuri giving a talk on what she has dubbed Zooesis, or the discourse of animals (or, rather non-humans) in the media.

As I emerged from the talk I looked at Ian Garrett of the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts and Moe Beitiks of the Green Museum Blog and said: “I’m not smart enough to be here.” Which is to say if the opening moment of EMOS 2009 is a reliable indicator, it will be a highly academic affair. Chaudhuri was followed by obligatory phases of mingling with strangers (not my forte) while smugly observing the corn-based disposable cups, paper plates and napkins, an engaging, often heart wrenching (though also quite academic) play by EM Lewis called Song of Extinction, and the most structured post show discussion (aka talkback) I’ve ever participated in, led by Cal State LA professor and playwright Jose Cruz Gonzalez. Part of me thought, “oh, I shouldn’t have stuck around for this.” It had the effect of stifling the power of the play, and its masterly intertwined themes. I jotted on my program during the talkback this tidbit: “Robbing the visceral through incessant deconstruction.” But that’s my own problem, right?

More later…

04
Dec
08

In the Audience

I’ve worked in theater in some form or another since high school. I have had a bad habit throughout my life in theater of being the type who says (or at least thinks) “I don’t want to go watch theater, I see so much of it from backstage, from the booth, I see it in rehearsals all day long…” So, I don’t sit in the audience much.

Now, because of the illness that blindsided me over a year ago, I really feel like a spectator sitting in the audience watching the future of green, eco-responsible theater rushing by in flashes. It’s difficult to do. So much has happened in the last few months, and ecoTheater has missed it. People close to me will roll their eyes when they find that as I write this lament I am sitting in a hospital room in Indianapolis waiting for my second and final round of high dose chemotherapy to commence. “Who cares about green theater?” they will ask.

I won’t lie — it isn’t that difficult to realize that I’ve missed out on reporting on the big Broadway initiative, supported as it is by the mayor of New York City, or the up and coming Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts (CSPA) (founded and driven by Ian Garrett, a regularly mentioned activist on ecoTheater), or the fast approaching Earth Matters on Stage (EMOC) at the University of Oregon, or, or, or…

I mean, it’s easy enough to see that there are bigger things to consider in my life right now. But, what can I say? For once, I hate being just a spectator. It’s like sitting through hours of rehearsal, not saying a word to anyone, and not participating in any way in the production.

For now, I have taken a leave of absence from my job with CTM and have done very little “work” of any kind in the last month or so. The only project I have spent time on is the Cancer Stories Project, hopefully the first stage work for the still-being-founded Wisconsin Story Project (WSP), which I hope to be a new model of theater that will take bits and pieces from many idea-makers, heading towards not just ecologically sound theater production, but also aiming to be a model of theater that solves for pattern (or here).

Who knows? Perhaps one day ecoTheater will simply morph into a blog tracking the progress of WSP, and how we’re doing our best to stay green, while tackling other issues that plague today’s so-called regional theater.

But no matter what I’ll be back here writing soon. So, don’t forget about me…

10
Sep
08

London’s “Green Theatre” Plan

As I read through London’s recently released plan of action for their theaters, I kept asking myself how the climate (and I don’t mean the weather kind) in London — or Europe in general — allows such things to happen. I know that NYC mayor Bloomberg has taken steps to encourage a greener Broadway, but to my knowledge nothing at the level of London mayor Johnson’s report would happen here in the States. At least not this quickly, this comprehensively…I just don’t see it.

In short, I’m amazed with the document they produced, and the related “Green Theatre Calculator 2008” (download your own excel copy here), which is a great tool for theaters everywhere. Thank you London.

I could go on and on about this report, but instead I’ll hit some highlights, and strongly encourage you to download a copy and study it — especially the “practical actions.”

  • 35% of London theater’s carbon emissions come from “front of house” operations, including heating and cooling
  • 9% of the emissions are the result of “stage electricals”
  • The entire London theater industry has a carbon footprint “roughly equivalent” to the energy use of nearly 9,000 homes
  • The report advocates factoring “equipment energy costs” into production budget
  • An appendix to the report lists the top actions that theaters can take, including:
  1. Switch off stage lights when not in use
  2. Reduce energy use in exterior lighting
  3. Implement energy management program
  4. Minimize travel emissions

Again, this post barely scratches the surface of the report. Read it yourself. If we all manage to implement a fraction of its suggestions, and are inspired by one of its case studies, we will push green theater in America nearer to true sustainability.

10
Sep
08

Mayor of London releases “Green Theatre” report

Boris Johnson, London’s mayor since May, has just released a comprehensive report on the greening of London theater entitled “Green Theatre: Taking Action on Climate Change.”

Once I have more time to go over the report, I will write more about it. For now, you can see a good news piece on it here and download the full report here.

06
Sep
08

toward a more sustainable theatre

Surprisingly, this blog exists in part due to the Theatre Communications Group. I pitched editor Jim O’Quinn on an article taking an objective look at the supposed greening of theater operations in this country. He and his staff liked the idea, and so I started working on it, contacting theater artists across the country to talk about it, and even asking those I was interviewing for other writing projects what they thought.

Alas, life interfered: I was diagnosed with cancer, and the editors at American Theatre simultaneously (nearly anyway) decided the piece of reportage I turned in was not objective enough. After treatment — and after I’d recovered enough to care again — Jim asked me to write an opinion piece on the subject instead.

So, after more than a year of work and thought, my essay on the importance of sustainability (or eco-friendliness, or environmental responsibility, or whatever you choose to call it) within American theater has finally made it into the pages of the magazine. I hope you read it — and I hope it helps reach more people than this blog ever has.




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"It should be about different kinds of symbols than the color green—wind farms, solar, renewable-energy laboratories, those things that are symbolic of the new energy economy. People think that we overuse the concept of green, and it could become trite in its expression.”
“This idea about green in a lot of people’s minds still conjures up this notion of a fringe or something that’s out-there. It doesn’t inspire this notion of a new America. It just seems more substantive than a color.” - Colorado governor Bill Ritter, Jr. in The New Yorker
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